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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 35 in D major, K 385, Haffner (1782) [19:56]
Piano Concerto No. 22 in E flat major, K 482 (1785) [37:13] *
Horn Concerto No. 1 in D major, K 412/514 (1791) [10:58] #
Symphony No. 36 in C major, K 425, Linz (1783) [26:04]
#Radek Baborak (horn)
Berliner Philharmoniker/Daniel Barenboim *(piano conductor)
Video Director: Bob Coles
rec. Estates Theatre, Prague, 1 May 2006, DDD.
Sound formats PCM Stereo, DD5.1, DTS 5.1.
Picture format NTSC 16:9 anamorphic.
Disc format DVD 9.
Region code 0 (all regions).
EUROARTS 2055308 [116:08]

 


Mozart’s Haffner Symphony receives a polished performance here from Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Philharmonic at their annual European Concert on 1 May, in 2006 in Prague. It was held to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth.

There’s a suitably festive feel about the start: beefy passages for full orchestra on the one hand, athletic racing strings on the other and the caressing interweaving of first and second violins. All is distinctively conveyed by Barenboim with stimulating momentum. In contrast, to the Andante Barenboim brings a graceful warmth and a touch of sunny dreaminess, yet the first violins’ line is also made admirably seamless. In the Minuet Barenboim vividly points the distinction between the opening pompous masculine and following coy feminine phrase. His Trio luxuriates, working resolutely to keep things as they are. The finale, ‘as fast as possible’ is both showy and firm.

I compared the 1974 concert performance on DVD by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Karl Böhm (Deutsche Grammophon 00440 073 4131). Here are the comparative timings:


Timings

I

 II

III

IV

Total

Barenboim

5:58

5:13 

3:15

5:30

19:56

Böhm

5:49

6:54
(4:58)
3:36 4:33
20:52 (18:56)

 Böhm’s disciplined goal is a steady unfolding of structure where Barenboim’s beefier tone and brawnier, bigger band sound, more arresting in its louder and more emotive in its softer elements, has more emphasis on vertical clarity. In the Andante there’s more feeling for the poetry of the moment from Barenboim, more grace and humour pointing the natural climax of the line. His concentrated approach validates omitting the repeats of both halves of the movement. Bohm makes only the first half repeat, so I’ve put in brackets the exact comparison with Barenboim’s timing. Böhm’s approach is more direct and sheenily assured in the final appearance of the opening melody. In the Minuet also Barenboim’s contrasts are more striking, an opening phrase of ostentation and mastery, a sleeker alternating one. The Trio is both a rich confection and a relaxation. Böhm a little more formally contrasts the majestic and graceful with a smoother, quieter Trio. His faster finale is the more vigorous, though Barenboim’s is mettlesome and neatly pointed. 

Next from Barenboim is Mozart’s Piano Concerto 22. On DVD the camerawork emphasises a succession of instrumental spotlights in the orchestral introduction: horns, clarinets, flute, bassoons. The first piano solo Barenboim presents with clarity and a firm sense of impulse though the underlying mood remains reflective. From the orchestral introduction of the Andante Barenboim creates a rich vein of sorrow, a dramatic aria pressing insistently onward. Particularly evocative is the coda, both wistful and cowed. By contrast the rondo finale is a jolly knees-up. Everyone lightens up and is dashing in both senses. Given this, Barenboim’s gracious ornamentation of repeated phrases is arguably too artful, especially when doubling and expanding upon the first violins in the central Andantino cantabile episode of repose (tr. 8 49:39). 

I compared the 1989 CD by the same forces (Elatus 2654 61174-2). Here for comparison are the actual performance as distinct from published timings:
 

Timings

 I

II

III

Total

Barenboim 2006 DVD

13:19

9:36

11:20

34:15

Barenboim 1989 CD

13:28 

9:49

12:01

35:18

The 1989 performance has more of a heroic quality whereas the 2006 is more festive, its surround sound of greater density and smoothness. Barenboim brings more poise to the apex of the first solo piano phrase (tr. 6 23:42) by the slightest slowing, you see him concentrating on this, where in 1989 he softens the tone. You also see his delight in a smiling articulation of the second theme (25:49) where in 1989 it has more of a preening character. In 2006 he again plays his own cadenza, with a grander opening and more of a feel of nuance and flow where 1989 stresses the range of emotions. 

Again there’s more flow, warmth and coherence to the 2006 slow movement with better integration of soloist and orchestra, especially in the intense and aching coda (tr. 7 43:00). In 1989 there’s a more self-conscious stateliness, though the piano’s opening solo has an exquisite desolation. In the finale there’s more fun, gaiety, even impishness in the slightly faster 2006, with more bounce to the orchestral passages aided by big conducting gestures by Barenboim from the piano stool. It bubbles along, though the 1989 Andantino cantabile is more intimate. The cadenza, an abridged version of one by Edwin Fischer, is the same and in 2006 particularly a model of poise. It recalls the Andantino and works playfully back to the rondo theme. 

Mozart’s First Horn Concerto, not otherwise currently on DVD, is a joy to watch because of the contrast between the fluent yet relaxed soloist’s apparently effortless artistry and the orchestra concentrating hard going at a fair lick. The soloist, Radek Baborak, principal horn of the Berlin Philharmonic, has a pleasingly rotund full tone. He maintains the leisurely profile above an increasingly hyper orchestra yet with silky singing violins as allies on occasion. The second Allegro is a rondo with more of a regular swing to it and the playing accordingly has more edge. Now the Berlin strings pirouette all over the place but Baborak brings a salving wistful languor at the heart of the second episode (tr. 10 65:17). 

I compared the 1993 CD by Anthony Halstead and The Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood (L’Oiseau-Lyre 443 216-2). Taking actual performance timings they are slower in the first Allegro, 4:52 against Barenboim’s 4:35 and at 3:23 in the rondo just 6 seconds faster. Halstead’s natural horn isn’t as smooth as Baborak’s valve one but thereby has more humorous character. While the Berlin Phil and Barenboim are more flamboyant, the AAM and Hogwood seem to have more fun. 

Finally in Barenboim’s DVD comes the Linz symphony. His introduction to the first movement is more warm than imposing and the emphasis in the main body is on geniality too. Barenboim keeps the slow movement flowing and finds a beaming density of texture. His Minuet is sonorous and rather pompous but his Trio has a simple grace, a contrast of affectation and total lack of it. His finale has an easy flow, its themes gracefully passing from one instrument to another, and firm dynamic contrasts with true Presto intensity reserved for the latter stages of both halves.

I compared the 1991 concert performance on DVD by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Carlos Kleiber (Philips 070 161-9). Here are the comparative timings:


Timings

I

 II

III

IV

Total

Barenboim

7:56

6:55

3:27

7:46

26:04

Kleiber

10:46 (8:17)

7:25

3:55

7:53 (5:47)

29:59 (25:24)

Kleiber’s first movement introduction is weightier at the outset than Barenboim’s and has stronger contrast in a melodious continuation of greater coherence and nuance of line. Barenboim has a silky strings’ contrast and more direct attention to the qualities of mystery and drama but Kleiber offers greater subtlety. Barenboim goes for a heavier full orchestra sound and considerable vigour of articulation. Unlike Barenboim, in the outer movements Kleiber makes the exposition repeat, so the bracketed timings above show the exact comparisons.

Kleiber’s slow movement is gently lilting with graceful contours and a particular focus on line and rhythm. Barenboim’s denser texture has more harmonic focus, emphasising the darker aspects as does his greater urgency of projection, but counterbalanced somewhat by the luxuriant strings. Kleiber’s Minuet is elegant with clear dynamic shading, its formal dance character explicit. His lightly pointed Trio flows benignly. Barenboim’s Minuet has more bounce, his dancers more rustic. His slightly faster tempo makes his Trio less relaxed than Kleiber’s. In the finale Kleiber contrasts a light melodiousness with rhythmic verve with fine balance of themes and counter themes and a refined, playful development. Barenboim is slower, working harder to make a bigger splash. His development (tr. 14 89:50) is more dramatic.

This DVD has a bonus film, ‘A portrait of Prague’, an 18 minute English, French and German subtitled whistle stop tour of cultural places and activities, too skimpy to be informative. Not so the 98 minute concert. Böhm’s Mozart is sonorously classical, Kleiber’s more Schubertian, Barenboim’s is rather more romantically inclined, bringing Schumann to mind. Unashamedly high calorie but very stylish with it.

 Michael Greenhalgh


 


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